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'Star Trek: Discovery' makes franchise history with trans, nonbinary characters

The third season of the CBS All Access series will introduce nonbinary character Adira and trans man Gray, who will be played by "OA" alum Ian Alexander.
Actor Ian Alexander arrives for the Netflix series premiere of "The OA Part II" in Los Angeles on March 19, 2019.Valerie Macon / AFP via Getty Images
/ Source: Reuters

LOS ANGELES - In a first for the "Star Trek" franchise, characters who are gender-nonbinary and transgender will appear on the third season of "Star Trek: Discovery," CBS All Access announced on Wednesday.

Ian Alexander ("The OA") will play Gray, a trans man who has spent his life as a Trill planning to be a host for a symbiotic alien species that lives in different hosts over its lifetime.

Newcomer Blu del Barrio will play Adira, a nonbinary character who bonds with Lt. Commander Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz), the first same-sex couple in "Trek" TV series history.

"'Star Trek' has always made a mission of giving visibility to underrepresented communities because it believes in showing people that a future without division on the basis of race, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation is entirely within our reach," co-showrunner and executive producer Michelle Paradise said in a statement.

The production worked closely with GLAAD, especially director of transgender media and representation Nick Adams, in crafting Gray and Adira for Season 3.

"We take pride in working closely with Blu del Barrio, Ian Alexander and Nick Adams at GLAAD to create the extraordinary characters of Adira and Gray, and bring their stories to life with empathy, understanding, empowerment and joy," said Paradise.

When Alexander first appeared as a trans character on the Netflix sci-fi series "The OA," he was the first out trans Asian American actor on TV. He most recently played the trans character Lev on the acclaimed video game "The Last of Us Part II."

Del Barrio was cast on "Discovery" while in their final year at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. They've been acting in theater and short film productions since they were 7; "Discovery" will be their TV debut.

In an interview with Adams posted to GLAAD's website, Del Barrio says Adira is "an introvert" suffering from memory loss who doesn't tell people that they're nonbinary right away -- which ended up mirroring their own experience coming out as nonbinary.

"When I got the call that I'd been cast as Adira, I hadn't yet told the majority of my friends and family that I was nonbinary," Del Barrio says. "I had only recently discovered the word and realized that it described how I'd felt for a long time. I knew I wanted to tell my friends and family, so when this happened, it felt like the universe saying 'go ahead.'"

Although the original "Star Trek" TV series, which first ran on NBC from 1966 to 1969, was groundbreaking at the time for its depiction of Black and Asian characters, until the 2010s, the "Trek" franchise largely avoided LBGTQ characters of any significance.

For years, the most explicit depiction of any LBGTQ characters in "Trek" was in a 1992 episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" titled "The Outcast," in which the crew of the Enterprise encounter the J'naii, an alien race that has no gender and views any expressions of gender or sexuality to be taboo. Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) ends up falling in love with a J'naii who identifies as female, until she is forced by her society to undergo a form of therapy that eradicates her gender identity. (Frakes has said the episode was not "gutsy" enough.)

The Trill species has also allowed "Star Trek" to dip into queer issues, if tentatively. In the 1991 "TNG" episode "The Host," Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) falls passionately in love with a male Trill, but when the host body dies and the symbiont alien is placed in a female host, Crusher says she can't continue with the relationship. A 1995 episode of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" flipped that equation, with the female Trill Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell) reuniting with a woman who was Dax's wife when Dax lived inside a male host. Dax wants to restart their relationship, and the two women kiss, but the episode ends with the ex-wife deciding instead to move on.

Finally, the 2016 feature film "Star Trek Beyond" — set in an alternate "Trek" universe — revealed that character of Sulu (John Cho) has a husband and daughter, though the husband character (played by the film's co-screenwriter Doug Jung) had no lines, and the characters only briefly hug on screen.

It wasn't until Stamets and Culber were introduced on "Discovery" in 2017 that two male "Trek" characters were depicted in a fully expressed romantic relationship -- and played by two out queer actors.

The third season of "Star Trek: Discovery" premieres on CBS All Access on Oct. 15.

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